Patient and family-centred hospital care

Director of Nursing talking to patients

Breaking with convention can lead to better patient care. Sarah Brealey reports on Liverpool Heart and Chest hospital, which is putting patients and family members at the heart of care.

A family-centred hospital

Imagine a hospital where loved ones can visit at any time of day or even spend the night, and where relatives are actively encouraged to get involved with care. It might sound like a fictional utopia, or maybe you think it's just common sense.

Either way, at Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital, they’re making it a reality. “Families are vital,” says Director of Nursing Sue Pemberton. “Patients feel more relaxed and have less anxiety when they have relatives with them.

We are changing the culture of how families are viewed

“On the wards, we ask the main family member or carer if they would like to be involved in the care of their relative or friend and, if so, what elements of care. For example, it might be helping with meals or helping them to walk. It is about empowering families to be partners in care.”

The traditional practice of set visiting hours and having to ask or ring a bell to get families to leave was rejected because it “didn’t feel very welcoming”. The only restriction is in the critical care unit during the morning, so that doctors can spend time with seriously ill patients.

The hospital also takes a broader view of patient welfare. When one man expressed concerns about leaving his wife, who has dementia, while he had surgery, it was arranged for her to spend each day in the hospital and meals were provided.

Relative comfort

Room at the Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital Offering accommodation for loved ones may sound expensive, but Sue says it helps patients recover faster. It can even improve safety: “We say to families, if you see anything you are not happy with, please tell us,” explains Sue.

Feedback from patients is positive. In the Care Quality Commission’s annual inpatient survey, the hospital was rated top in the country for quality of patient care for seven of the last eight years.

A recent patient said: “During my admission, I found all the staff really listened to me and were responsive to my needs. I felt I was involved in the decision-making.”

A new initiative involves bedside signs encouraging people to tell nurses if they’re unhappy with something. In the critical care unit, the relatives’ area has been redesigned with their help. It’s now more comfortable and has somewhere to get food and drink.

“It is a long journey to truly embed patient- and family-centred care across the hospital,” says Sue. “We are changing the culture of how families are viewed. We want to empower people.”

5 ways to better patient care

1. Family members can help with your care, as Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital shows.

2. Get health niggles checked out early; don’t wait until you’re really ill. This applies even if, like Gordon Richardson in Wales, you think it may be nothing to do with your heart.

3. If you’re not happy about something, speak up. Even the best health services can improve by listening to patients and carers, as both Barts and Liverpool hospitals have shown.

4. Take an active role in your own care to help you feel in control and lead to better care. You can ask questions to improve your understanding of your condition. Call the Heart Matters Helpline with your questions on 0300 330 3300, or email [email protected]

5. Your experiences can help improve care for others. The BHF’s Heart Voices is a network of people affected by heart disease who want to influence heart health services. Find out more at the Heart Voices website or call 020 7554 0194.

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